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Learning From the Pros: How To Manage Your Brewery’s Employees

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With the brewing industry’s electric growth over the last decade, everyone wants to learn from the best. Whether that’s the established brewer in your hometown or a high-production brewery distributing nationwide, it’s always nice to have someone to look up to.

At this year’s Ekos_Con (our annual user conference), Ekos CEO Josh McKinney got together with Hops & Grain founder Josh Hare to talk through what successful breweries get right when it comes to hiring and managing employees. Hare has founded several breweries over his career, so he knows a thing or two about the recipe for success.

How to Set Your Brewery Up for Success

Before jumping into any commitment, you need a game plan. While a lot goes into any business plan, the details of your strategy for gaining and retaining employees are worth combing through. Here are a few considerations from Josh Hare before you lay out your first job listing:

  • Keep that startup energy: This is what most employees are after. The chance to make an impact and pursue a mission is the goal. Think about it — you probably started your brewery to grow community in your town and do something special (or maybe you just like beer — we aren’t judging!).
  • Provide stability: With that said, most job seekers are also looking for stability. Someone has to pay the bills after all! The days of bootstrapping for a cool job are over — everyone deserves at least a living wage, if not more. While you, as the business owner, might’ve been willing to forgo a paycheck early on, your employees probably don’t have that luxury. Plus, what does that say about your business? That you don’t have confidence in its success.
  • Develop your vision & values: Clearly define where you want the company to go and understand what’s needed to get there. Then, define what’s important to you. For some inspo, check out a few of the Ekos values — these are the North Star for our business and help keep employees accountable. When you craft your vision and values, make sure you’re setting realistic expectations. It’s OK to be flexible, but do what you say, because ambiguity isn’t productive.
  • Be an effective leader: If you are constantly working overtime and doing everyone else’s job, we’re here to call you out. Josh Hare notes that this mindset is a toxic example to set for your team. Remember that we’re all humans — if someone is sick or needs a mental health day, nothing will burn to the ground. When you, as a founder, take time for your family and for yourself, you’re demonstrating to your team that they can do the same (and they should!). Hare shared that at one point, he had to take a few sick days. He thought things would fall apart if he wasn’t available, but it turns out that just the opposite occurred — he came back to a thriving team whose communication was even stronger than before.

High-level Focus

According to Josh Hare, there are three primary areas to focus on when building a dream team at your brewery:

  • Recruiting: This is all about seeking out the right people. You can’t get anywhere worthwhile without them!
  • Retention: When you find that perfect team, don’t let them go! They will be your most valuable asset when it comes to retention and growth. These employees should feel comfortable sharing shortcomings of the business with you and you should listen. This is about keeping the right people.
  • Rewards: You know what constitutes a reward — team members doing a great job, going above and beyond, and career growth. Rewarding your employees’ successes will only strengthen your retention.


Recruiting is all about getting the right people in place. It all starts with the job description. When you develop a listing, you should be transparent. Don’t fluff it up or include vague descriptions of a prospective employee’s responsibilities. Be clear and specific. This will help you get a stronger pool of candidates and help prospective employees weigh whether they’d be the right fit for the position. 

Something else you should be transparent about? Pay. This distinction is becoming standard among employers, and you should hop on the bandwagon. Sharing pay ranges in a job posting leads to less time wasted for both you and the candidates.

Including your current team in these processes as well is important. Your employees understand the culture at your brewery better than anyone, and including them in the recruiting and hiring process will ensure that culture is maintained with each new hire. Involving current employees in the hiring process will also improve retention as they feel like their voice is being heard. The candidate can also look forward to being a part of that process if they join the team.


Now that you’ve got your ideal candidates on the team, you need to proactively keep them there. Josh Hare recommends dedicating a clear amount of time and resources to onboarding, in turn giving your team development and buy-in to their new employers. This should also include developing a clear path to success for your new team members and letting them know what success looks like in their particular role.

Additionally, Hare says a hard lesson to learn is removing toxic employees immediately when you realize they aren’t the right fit for your company or culture. You may be tempted to wait it out, try to coach them, or see if the employee will leave on their own, but toxic employees can disrupt your team’s ecosystem quickly. When someone is causing problems among the group, act promptly to maintain your team’s hard work toward a positive work environment.


Checking in frequently allows you to understand how your team is doing at all times — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It also creates space for clearly communicating rewards for accomplishments and having important discussions when your team members are struggling. Josh Hare says what is really important is “360-degree feedback,” or allowing for feedback from a manager, a colleague, and the employee themselves.

Ensure you’re promoting and rewarding performers. This sounds pretty basic, but you would be surprised how many owners and managers forget about the importance of rewards, leaving team members feeling unappreciated. This could be in the form of verbal or written praise, opportunities to pursue passion projects, or, of course, financial incentives.

On the flip side, if your team members mess up, and they will, provide clear guidance for improvement. There’s no need to beat around the bush when it comes to expectations. Communicating will give your team a clear picture of where they’re headed and what they can do to avoid the same mistake in the future.

Finally, make sure you provide the opportunity for employees to give anonymous feedback to owners and managers. The way owners and managers are seen by employees is really important to developing an open and honest culture among your team members. Nobody is perfect, and that includes bosses. So give your employees the space to share their thoughts and then really listen and identify areas of improvement.

Your staff is the heart of your brewery — customers may come for the beer, but they’ll stay for the service and ambiance your team provides. Remember the three R’s so you can keep your dream team on board: recruit, retain, reward. These will get you on the right foot with your brewery’s employees and ensure you’re appreciating them for all the hard work they do for your business.

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